Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

It's time to stand up for pro-Agreement politics, and the political institutions: We all need to protect the Peace Process

The Queen meets Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle
The Queen meets Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle

Two significant but very different news images and reports appeared in recent days.

The most recent was that of Martin McGuinness's meeting with Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Belfast.

The contrasting report was of the DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP and, UPRG joining forces to meet the Parades Commission last week which of course is their collective right.

It also says something about the right ward shifts among different strands of political unionism. The recent election results were the inevitable outworking of what happens in unionism when courageous and decisive leadership is absent.

That pan unionist front at the Parades Commission is reminiscent of images when unionist politicians and paramilitary representatives previously joined together to attend talks at Stormont, and convene the Unionist Forum. 

It may also be the first concrete indication of efforts to develop unionist electoral pacts aimed at unseating Sinn Féin, SDLP, and Alliance MPs in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, and South and East Belfast.

The agenda for political unionism is being set by orange and unionist extremists. For as long as that continues the prospects remain bleak for real political engagement; the implementation of the Haass compromise proposals; or indeed proper power sharing and partnership government.

Without a positive step change, political unionism will move inexorably away from the collective responsibility to build reconciliation and shared future, and towards a hostile, anti-Agreement axis. That’s the wrong direction to go.

Richard Haass offered some advice to local political leaders speaking in Tipperary last Monday.  He said:

“They must be both willing and able to compromise.  They must also be willing and able to stand by an agreement when it is criticised, as all agreements inevitably are.”

He also reminded us that the north has not reached a point in which peace and tranquillity can be taken for granted: and, we have not quite achieved normalcy, and not quite peace.

The political process needs consolidated with gestures and initiatives which give our people confidence, optimism and hope.

The image of Martin McGuinness again meeting Queen Elizabeth conveys positive and forward looking leadership; providing an example of reconciliation, in spite of our history of political conflict.

That should be a powerful impetus for all those who support the pro-Agreement politics of democracy, equality, and parity of esteem to now reassert the absolute primacy of power sharing and partnership government.

This is a time to stand up for pro-Agreement politics, and the political institutions.  We all need to protect the Peace Process.

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